The Puerto Rico-based newspaper El Nuevo Dia reported on Wednesday that Juan Antonio Martínez Matos – the suspect accused of savagely murdering 19 year-old Jorge Steven López – has used the so-called ‘trans panic defense’ while in police custody. The ‘gay panic defense’ or ‘trans panic defense’ is a common tactic used by anti-LGBT criminal suspects and implies that LGBT people are legitimate targets for discrimination, abuse and violence. Implying that an openly LGBT victim shares responsibility for being assaulted, or that an attack is justified because of an unwanted romantic or sexual advance often biases criminal and legal investigations. According to El Nuevo Dia, Martínez Matos, 26, claims that he was soliciting women for sex when approached by López who he says was wearing “a blue dress and boots. The suspect alleges that he allowed López into his vehicle under the impression that López was female, but after discovering López to be male, Martínez Matos says he “had a flashback to when he was raped in prison” and proceeded to attack and murder the young man. The teen’s body was later discovered decapitated, dismembered and partially burnt. Sources close to the victim confirm that López identified as a gay man. LGBT organizations across the nation are reacting to the gruesome murder that most see as an anti-LGBT bias crime. In a statement released Tuesday, Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Rea Carey, condemned the savage murder and encouraged local law enforcement to prosecute the suspect to the full extent of the law:
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force stands in solidarity with the LGBT community in Puerto Rico and sends its deepest condolences to the family and friends of Jorge Steven López. We urge local law enforcement authorities to continue their expedient work on this case. Fortunately, Puerto Rico has a local hate crimes statute, but it is imperative that federal authorities continue to monitor this ongoing investigation and step in if necessary or assist if asked, as allowed by the new federal hate crimes law.The Federal Bureau of Investigation has said that it will assume jurisdiction over the case if local law enforcements determine the murder to be a hate-motivated crime. It is disturbing to read that Martínez Matos seems to be attempting to justify his horrific actions with the so-called ‘Trans Panic Defense." GLAAD urges national media to report the tragedy in a fair, accurate, and inclusive manner so that law enforcement may better and more transparently investigate and communicate the facts of this appalling crime. GLAAD will closely monitor media coverage to ensure it is fair, accurate and inclusive. GLAAD has also reached out to the family of Jorge Steven López and to local community members on the ground to offer media assistance.